Why I Wrote *that post*

One of the first posts I wrote on this site was about my frustration with getting good data on the difference between linux distros. It was titled, “Linux Users Are All Crazy Fundamentalists.” It has generated a ton of traffic, and comments from all perspectives.

I’ve held off on responding to the comments here because, for the most part, the article stands on its own. I feel like I need to respond, however, to Nick and James, and some of the other comments, to clarify my intent and purpose.

I do not expect anything to be handed to me. Never have. I understand the tradeoffs between proprietary solutions and open-source, and I am willing to embrace the challenges in order to use a free and open system. What I think you’re not understanding is that I want to become part of the contributing community surrounding linux. I want to understand, and help others to understand, how this things works. I’m not looking for someone to hand me a turn-key solution that involves no effort on my part. I want to build a server, I want to know how it works, and then I want to become part of the beautiful social cycle of reciprocation, where I pass that understanding on to those who stand where I stood.

I wrote this post out of the frustration that grew up because of that desire. I approached people with an open mind, a willingness to learn, a pretty sharp brain, and a idea of what was I was looking for in a linux platform. I wasn’t looking for someone to make a choice for me, I was looking for some reasonable basis from which I could make that decision on my own. I was confronted with a barrage of awful information, people barracking for their own cult-of-distro, rather than giving any consideration to the possibility that their might be reasonable choices outside of their own preference.

If I’m trying to build a fast and stable server, why the hell do I care if Debian does or doesn’t support a certain video card? Who cares which desktops interfaces are compatible? I’m going to use the command line, and the box will never have a monitor plugged into it. Yet, everywhere I went, there was some Ubuntu fanboy telling me that I was an idiot if I chose debian, or gentoo, or whatever, because it wasn’t compatible with xyz soundcard, or video card. Repeat 20x, for each distro, for a dozen different reasons that had nothing to do with what I actually needed out of my install.

And that, my friends, smacks of fundamentalism. When you remove yourself from reasonable discussion, and instead rely on the loudest rhetoric to make your point, you’ve lost me. Maybe that’s how the linux community protects its borders, by making bloodsport of noobies. Maybe it’s how the 12-year-old fanboys express the eternal adolescent insect of social herding. Either way, it’s frustrating and counterproductive.

I am not frustrated by choices. I’m frustrated by people who want to make those choices for me, who want me to fall in line with their gospel, and then insult my intelligence by not offering a reasonable basis for their loudly proffered opinions.

7 thoughts on “Why I Wrote *that post*

  1. Brace yourself, I have so much to explain.

    I replied earlier today to the original article without realizing how old it was.

    After reading this one, I can’t help but get caught up in the details. It really appears that you didn’t do the proper research in the first place.

    First off, it sounds like you relied solely on talking to users of the distros-of-interest. It seems pretty self-explanatory to me that the first people you’d encounter are probably the most vocal, and not necessarily the most knowledgeable.

    Is it really that surprising that an avid Ubuntu user will recommend Ubuntu to you? Ubuntu isn’t really aimed at server use, but an avid user is familiar with Ubuntu and understands how one would go about setting up a server. That user probably hasn’t really spent a whole lot of time in, say, Gentoo, and has no idea how you’d go about setting up a server with Gentoo — even though I think most would agree that Gentoo (configured to only use stable packages and sane CFLAGS) is better to use as a server than Ubuntu (whether it is or isn’t is a whole separate debate, let’s assume for the sake of my point here that this sentiment is true — if you don’t like it then pick any other two distros). Especially if the Ubuntu user hasn’t used many other distributions, it’s difficult for him to see why Ubuntu isn’t a good choice for a server. He might know that Ubuntu is aimed for the average user and designed for ease of use, but he might then extrapolate that setting up a server with Ubuntu is also simplified. I shouldn’t need to tell you that this logic leaves out many important factors which probably lead to the misinformation and bias you’ve encountered. I’ve never had any trouble finding a simple, step-by-step, well-written and informative howto for setting up popular, even not-so-popular, packages in Gentoo (I didn’t use Debian as an example here because Ubuntu’s based off of Debian and I’m not sure how similar the process would be between the two). In any event, my point is: it shouldn’t really shock you that an Ubuntu advocate would, well, advocate Ubuntu.

    Furthermore, if an Ubuntu user were to suggest Gentoo to you, you might be inclined to ask him for help when you run into problems (he did, after all, point you down the road, naturally you’d think he knows where he has sent you). It’s only frustrating and time-consuming when he doesn’t understand how portage (gentoo’s package manager) works. Chances are, if he’s nice enough, he’ll try to understand portage in the context of the Linux knowledge he has obtained from using Ubuntu which won’t get you far in most cases (for example, I understand that Ubuntu encourages the use of sudo for privilege escalation, whereas you’ll probably already be logged in as root or su’d to root if you’re installing and configuring things in Gentoo. Being used to this, sudo would certainly be confusing). The point here is that you are responsible for making reasonable judgments on who can appropriately answer your questions.

    Second of all, some of the information you sought without success seems readily available with a simple Google search. Even so, you express your agitation at the fact that these people couldn’t (or simply didn’t bother to) get this information for you. I think this is more what Nick and/or James (can’t remember who said what) were talking about when they explained that you should be doing as much of the work by yourself and resorting to asking for help when you can’t figure it out.

    The reason for this is: by the time you ask for help, you are bound to have at least found something. If that something didn’t help you, it will most likely be helpful for those trying to help you. That way, when you pose a question, it’s clear that you understand the concepts behind your troubles, and it’s more clear to someone else what you’re missing. Also, it’s less annoying than “why won’t my video card work?” to see a “I have a GVideo blah blah blah, I get these errors, I tried this and this, and I found these links but I’m not sure what to do.” Another user would be more inclined to help you with your issue in the second case, and in fact, some forum users will simply ignore people who post obnoxiously little information. I should also mention that I’ve never come across the above-mentioned howtos for Gentoo by posting a problem on the forums. It’s the other way around, a Google search or navigation of Gentoo’s documentation will quickly reveal the appropriate howtos as well as introduce me to sources like gentoo-wiki. It’s when I run into a problem while following these howto’s that it may be necessary to start asking other users questions, but before that it’s still more reasonable to first search for anyone else who experienced the same issue and solved it. Case in point: there are countless articles that highlight pros and cons as well as discuss different aspects of many linux distributions, but instead of digging those up you got angry at opinionated and vocal users.

    As a comparison, imagine someone asking you for help with Windows. Suppose that their network card drivers have been tampered with. How difficult would it be to help them if they simply said “I can’t check my e-mail!”? To them, that’s exactly what the problem is, but the context might lead you to diagnose something completely irrelevant. Instead, if the user investigates the problem and finds that the Hardware Manager flagged their network card with a yellow exclamation point, that would be much more helpful to know, wouldn’t it? Perhaps they don’t understand how, or it’s beyond their skill-level, to go about acquiring a working driver and installing it, but you can see that they understand the nature of their problem and it makes things much easier for you to not only fix, but explain to the user the solution.

    With all the different possibilities that Linux allows for (by virtue of how open source works) and with the lack of corporate support (this issue is fading, thankfully!), troubleshooting an issue is complicated by quite a magnitude and it becomes absolutely crucial that you supply as many details as possible. Instead of running a command prompt and checking “ipconfig /all”, or investigating the hardware manager, it becomes: What network card do you have? What revision of that network card is it? What’s the output of ‘lspci’? What version of the kernel do you have? Is your card supported by the kernel? If not, is there a patch for it, or a third party driver? Or perhaps it’s supported in a newer version of the kernel? If it’s a third-party driver, what are its dependencies? Do you have those installed? What’s the output of ‘lsmod’? What happens when you try ‘insmod driver’? Have you configured your system so that the driver is loaded automatically upon booting? What’s the output of ‘dmesg’? of ‘ifconfig -a’? etc, etc. You may recognize that these steps check similar things to what you’d check in windows, but there are more places to check, since Windows doesn’t upgrade the kernel outside of new versions or perhaps service packs, and 99.999% (if not 100%) of NIC manufacturers will write windows drivers and it’s not necessary to check for support.

    What bothers me the MOST about these two blog posts is this: all of these distributions use the Linux kernel. Most likely each distribution will have several different patchsets that make the kernel a little different, but if you really wanted you could download the latest kernel source and upgrade it yourself with whatever patches you want. The distribution may even give you several different kernel+patchset options (Gentoo, again, and I think Debian does this as well?). The significance to this is that it doesn’t make sense that a piece of hardware will work in one distribution and not another.

    I can see that you are technically inclined but I haven’t had a chance to read some of your other articles, so if not for your sake, then for your readers’ sakes it is important that I explain this: The kernel sits between the software and the hardware. No matter how differently the software is configured between distributions, as long as the kernel knows how to use the hardware, the software can use that hardware via the kernel. This is oversimplifying and it may be necessary to retrieve a third-party driver or abstraction layer, but these, again, are loaded by the same kernel.

    Granted, it’s possible that someone (unconventionally, probably due to not really understanding proper development procedures) writes a patch that allows the kernel to use a certain sound card and only distributes that patch with their favorite distribution. However, it takes very little time for someone else to implement that patch into either the official kernel source, or as a patch compatible with all other distributions, or even make it into a third-party loadable kernel module.

    Combined with the fact that the above scenario actually happening is very unlikely, discouraged, and would take some rather large miscommunications and misunderstandings to actually happen, it’s pretty safe to rule out. So hopefully you can see why it bothers me to first assume you did some reasonable research, and then see you complain about things like:

    “…everywhere I went, there was some Ubuntu fanboy telling me that I was an idiot if I chose [another distro] because it wasn’t compatible with xyz soundcard, or video card…”

    Being called an idiot for your curiosity is understandably upsetting and I can see why you would end up publishing your disapproval of such behavior, but surely you could’ve verified that this wasn’t true and written off the offending user as not knowing what they were talking about?

    As a more pleasant aside, skimming through the index of your blog, it appears you’ve gotten yourself situated (with debian?) and have been having some success as well as figuring things out. I’d like to point out a perhaps invaluable resource: ANY distribution’s forums. I’ve found the Gentoo community to be my favorite, but I’ve heard that there is an off-topic section that’s pretty helpful over at the Ubuntu forums as well. You can’t ask questions unrelated to that distro in their main support forums (maybe you can with Ubuntu since it’s based off of Debian?), but there is certainly a wealth of knowledgeable people browsing the off-topic sections. Between the religious and political debates, there’s an occasional question about even Windows that gets answered in depth. That has been my experience, anyway. I’ve never tried Debian nor encountered the community but I am aware of the stereotype that they will generally tell you to “RTFM” when you’re stuck. Although you can get this type of response anywhere you look, sometimes other communities are a bit more patient if perhaps, you don’t really know which manual to “fucking read.”

  2. You’re still an idiot for calling CentOS “lying bitches” and making it seem like they are trying to rip off redhat. The truth is they aren’t allowed to reference redhat even though thats where their sources come from.

  3. I just though that I would say that it is a sad fact that those that shout the loudest are often the least useful to listen too. What I mean to say is that there are (probably) millions of us Linux users of various distros that quite happily get on with it and enjoy learning more and more and hope to refine the right tools for our various jobs.
    Please don’t assume we are all crazy, I would guess the loud fundamental types are very much the vocal minority.

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